"If the parties are willing to start preparing their own people for peace, they should start by eliminating the myths that the societies have been creating for many years, because these myths have become the most serious obstacles to real peace in the future", says Avaz Hasanov in this op-ed
It feels that the societies of Azerbaijan and Armenia have moved on from the situation 3 years ago. The two societies cannot come into serious contact with each other, yet there are some positive examples of this happening.
If we look at the political steps taken by the conflicting parties in recent years, it looks obviously clear that Azerbaijan side has been consistently demonstrating not to be interested in keeping status quo, as it has existed since 2016.
Azerbaijan aims to achieve progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the background of its increasing economic capabilities and initiatives in projects of international importance. The Azerbaijan side also expresses its interest in achieving peace in the region.
After the recent change of power in Yerevan the Armenian side has replaced its rigid position to a more flexible position. The Armenian side also understands that there is a need for at least a clear peace plan, as the long-term freezing of the conflict does not satisfy the structures of the European Union, which have political interests in the region. The Armenian society does not discuss possible dividends to be gained from peace, however, there are attempts to describe it.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's meeting with President Ilham Aliyev in Davos, in fact, is the third meeting of the two leaders, which have taken place during various international gatherings. However, it should be remembered that these meetings of the leaders have been held on the margins of other international events.
Recently I started to review comments on social networks shared by Azerbaijanis and Armenians. A striking first impression was that although social network users' accusations and insults against each other do not decrease, their tones feel softened. Until 2010, the mainstream of polemics or abusive correspondences between internet users was taking place in the forums. As facebook became more popular, the main platform of "struggle" among internet users moved here.
Now that the "train" of the community's peace-building has been activated, what are the views of the people in the peacebuilding processes?
"Territories in exchange for Peace"
Reactions to interviews and comments given by Armenian Prime Minister Nicholas Pashinyan show that people in Armenian society tend not to support returning the territories unconditionally in return for peace, as we expect. As the struggle of Pashinyan against the "Karabakh clan" becomes aggravated, the protests of fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh will increase. Therefore, the formula for "transforming the area into peace" remains a fantasy mainly for some media representatives and experts.
"First economy and then peace"
This scenario, to which the Armenian side, and the world community, were most favourable to, was for the parties to restore economic relations between them, and thus facilitate the pace to peace. Even in Azerbaijan, they think "if Armen from Asgeran district of NK sells potatoes from his yard not 300 km away in a Yerevan market, but in Barda market (near line of contact), only 50km away, it will change his attitude to the conflict." At the same time, it is believed that by rendering economic assistance to Armenia, we will free it from the influence of neighbouring states. In Armenia, they also think that if the population of Azerbaijan enters into economic cooperation, people will forget about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem over time, "because they are not interested in Karabakh and the occupied territories." However, what is obvious is that Azerbaijan is not interested in eliminating economic blockade without seeing progress in the liberation of the territories.
The people will decide. "No step will be taken out of the will of people"
This formula is often stated in official circles. It's the formula we mostly have heard in Azerbaijan and Armenia. If we base on the logical sequence, the will of the Armenian people is "to see Nagorno-Karabakh independent". The will of the Azerbaijani people is, however, "to see Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan". Hence, the will of the people is unlikely to bring the positions closer. However, if there is a common denominator it is the need to persuade the people to change their positions.
"I will not sign any document without your knowledge"
This is a new formula. Nicholas Pashinyan frequently has addressed this message to the crowd in his speeches after his election as a prime minister. The fact is that the information given to the population about the negotiation processes is only of a general nature. While the parties to the conflict give only general information to the population, Russian experts share concrete dates, referring to reconciliation reached during the "negotiation processes" their comments to Azerbaijan and Armenian media. If one is to believe them, the parties even have discussed the date the regions adjoining Nagorno-Karabakh are to be returned to Azerbaijan, or the day when the borders are to be opened. Now it makes one wonder who wants to spread this disinformation among the population, and for what purpose?
"They will force peace"
It's a matter of recent debate. In case the parties cannot reach an agreement between them, they may be forced to sign a peace document by the European Union, Russia, and the United States. No one can deny this option, though it seems less plausible. If the attempts to reach peace by the parties and the interests of the powerful states in the region intensify, this can be considered one of the real options.
"First status, then peace"
The main argument of the Armenian side is that it is impossible to accept any of the peace processes without getting first agreement over the status of NK territory. Two documents: "package" solution and "phased" solution options were proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group. The "package" solution did not satisfy the Azerbaijani side and the "phased" solution was rejected by the Armenian side. Then, the "Madrid Principles" were set out as a mixture of these two options. Since 2007, the negotiation processes run around those principles. It is not promising to return back to the previous options.
"Let's make peace and forget about everything"
Naturally, it would serve to the interests of Armenia, which is interested in maintaining the status quo today, to normalize the situation by slightly changing the existing outcome of the conflict. However, as the situation in the conflict does not depend on the wishes of any single one of the actors to the conflict, this formula has no chance of success.
Both nations have been deprived of direct contact for 30 years. In the meanwhile, the gap is filled with mutual hatred and anger. The information war has deepened, and slanders among these two nations have reached to such an extent that every word intended to normalize relations is irritating.
Identification of Azerbaijan with Turkey, and steps taken to give a political assessment to the events of 1915, as well as, the propaganda of Azerbaijan side about the Khojaly tragedy dissuade people to reach reconciliation efforts between them.
The doors of Azerbaijan are closed to Armenians, and Armenia's for Azerbaijanis. Even the citizens of other nationalities with Armenian origin face hundreds of obstacles to visit Azerbaijan. The same thing happens in Armenia as well. It is impossible to travel there with Azerbaijan surname. In both cases, special approval is required.
For 30 years, the press has been filled with material full of hatred to each other, A new generation has no proper understanding of the opposite side. They only hear the propaganda advocated inside the country. In the meantime, they are experiencing difficulty in getting alternative information, or are even not interested in having such alternative information, or in obtaining information from the opposite side.
Discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan tele-media demonstrate mostly people's displeasure and irreconcilability. The news on Armenia is mainly focused on showing that it is economically backward. The Armenian broadcasts on Azerbaijan, however, aim to create an image of a country where a corrupt system is dominating. and human rights are violated.
In Azerbaijan, there is an idea that Armenians are starving in their countries. In Armenia, there is an idea that only wealthy people live well in Azerbaijan, while the rest of the population is "begging." Myths are inexhaustible in both societies. These myths arise from the lack of real news. and are particularly provocative
If the parties are willing to start preparing their own people for peace, they should start by eliminating the myths that the societies have been creating for many years, because these myths have become the most serious obstacles to real peace in the future.
source: Avaz Hasanov is the chairman of the Humanitarian Research Public Union in Azerbaijan
photo: President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister Pashinyan of Armenia in Dushambe in September 2018 (archive picture)
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Experts from both sides will jointly inspect different sections of the border over the coming days.